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The Pleasures: Of Political Philosophy and Other Interruptions

Lecturer: Bryan Cooke

Originally Taught: Summer School 2008

This course will begin with a reading of two texts by Leo Strauss, “What is Political Thinking?” and “Classical Political Philosophy”, and takes as its motto Hannah Arendt’s declaration, at the beginning of The Human Condition, of a need for us to stop and think what we are doing.

Despite to a large extent being inspired be the works of the German Jewish political philosopher, Leo Strauss, the course is not intended as a course of Strauss, but rather as an introduction via his work to some of the problems of political philosophy, where this term is supposed to evoke not only the idea of a philosophy of politics, but also of a politics of philosophy. In a literal, rather than grandiloquent sense the course could legitimately be construed as having a metaphilosophical intent, were it not for the fact that the reflexive element of philosophy – what could be regarded as a narcissistic fascination that attempts to transcend narcissism through the very mirror in which the reflection/speculation is observed – is something that belongs precisely to, or even helps to constitute, philosophy qua philosophy – is philosophy’s proper or own tendency. The course is designed to provoke reflections and ultimately to encourage discussion on the purpose, goals and limitations of philosophy, on the relationship between philosophy and politics, and on problems and paradoxes stemming from requirements (set extra- and intra-philosophically) for philosophy to justify itself in the contemporary world. In the course, these problems will be seen to be closely interrelated to the great Platonic philosophical problem of rhetoric, truth and desire (Eros).

Along the way, we will touch of such topics of nature and history: Eros and the psyche, and, in more modern language, on the pleasures of philosophy – why do we philosophise? What is the good of philosophy in the sense of the good at which philosophy aims – to wax Aristotelian, is this good internal or external to the practice of philosophy? If so, in what does this consist? Does it come into conflict with other goals, other tendencies of society, polity, state? In what can we find the ‘usefulness’ of philosophy, its purpose, its end? What, furthermore, is the situation of philosophy, today, in the modern world, in the context of liberal democracy, capitalism, the nature of the modern university? Insofar as these questions obviously open vast receptacles densely packed with cosmic worms, I do not propose more than to introduce an approach to these questions, an introduction to the problems of political philosophy.

Monday: Introduction (comments on Leo Strauss – “What is Political Philosophy”, “Three Waves of Modernity”, Natural Right and History): ‘What is the relationship between philosophy and politics?’ (or, ‘Why is there a relationship between philosophy and politics?’)

Tuesday: Two modern passions as sources of virtue: thinking about the conflict between Hobbes/Locke and Rousseau/Machiavelli. Bourgeois versus citoyen – suggestion that this conflict continues in the manner of Mauss’s Gift. Gift economy alongside capitalist economy. Three waves on the same ‘beach’. Romantic question: how is reconciliation possible?

Wednesday: Further discussion of the relationship between the first and the second waves. The question of reconciliation (Possible inclusion of a discussion of Burke and Spinoza’s Theological Political Treatise, dependent on time).

Thursday: ‘Cynicism and Simulacra’, or ‘Welcome to the Spin-Cycle’ – comments on ‘truth, politics and the third wave’ (Nietzsche and Plato).

Friday: ‘Socratic’ conclusion: Eros, piety, and politics.


Recommended Readings: Strauss, Leo, An Introduction to Political Philosophy: Ten Essays by Leo Strauss, ed. Hilail Gilden (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1989)